Host, Xbox's Major Nelson
Neha Chintala & Brandon Cole
Forza Blind Driving Assists
Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly Dust
The Last Case of Benedict Fox
[MUSIC PLAYING] LARRY HRYB: Hi, it's Larry Hryb, Xbox's Major Nelson. Welcome to the official Xbox podcast. We're here with you another week. We've got another great week of news, another great week of games, and another great week of just all around fun.
So let me bring in the gang here. Over there on the right is Rebecca. Over there on the left is Jeff. And I'm in the middle. Welcome, folks.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Hello.
LARRY HRYB: Hello.
REBECCA GORDIUS: Happy May the fifth. I hope everyone celebrated May the fourth yesterday.
LARRY HRYB: It's such a Star Wars thing, isn't it? So I know, Rebecca, you're a Star Wars fan, right? Like, are you a Star Trek Star Wars fan? Or do you land on both sides?
REBECCA GORDIUS: Both sides, but mostly Star Wars. I just really enjoyed Star Trek The Next Generation, if I'm being honest.
LARRY HRYB: That's OK.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Wait. Are these different things? They're not the same thing?
LARRY HRYB: At Jeff Rubenstein on Twitter is how you find him. If you want to do that, nerds.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: All I know is that it's hard to destroy the Death Star. I just thought it was fine. I thought it was cool.
LARRY HRYB: That's right. There we go. That's-- you know, maybe we'll just go the two box of you and I, Rebecca, and we'll talk Star Wars. Anyway, happy May the fourth. Anyway, great to see you-- great to see you, folks. A lot going on in gaming this week, isn't it, Jeffrey and Rebecca?
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Indeed.
REBECCA GORDIUS: Yeah. Busy week. I have Redfall installing. So I can play it this week.
LARRY HRYB: Yeah. You're going to check--
REBECCA GORDIUS: Sorry.
LARRY HRYB: Jeff and I have been playing-- we've been-- we kind of-- you know, Jeff, can we talk about it? Because we didn't really mention it when we were playing the game. We kind of had a gentleman's agreement that we were going to play it together. I think that's what you said. OK? Because I just want to talk about that.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So we play co-op. We're probably about five hours in co-op. Definitely the best way to play, I would say. So, Rebecca, if you want to join us at any point, that would be great. Because I've played just about every arcane game. And most of those games I tend to play very stealthy, very quiet, and creeping along. And, I mean, that's kind of how I like to play.
With Redfall in co-op, we're running and we're gunning. And sometimes we get into trouble. Sometimes we set off an alarm and a bunch of vampires come out, and we're just surviving.
LARRY HRYB: Yeah.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: But I would say, it's a completely different game playing solo versus co-op. And I would say I'm having a lot more fun playing with Larry. Even if you're the one setting of those alarms.
LARRY HRYB: That's not-- OK, it is true. You're right. It is true.
REBECCA GORDIUS: That sounds like Larry, yeah.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Yeah. I'm like, where did you go? I'll be like equipping a new weapon or something--
LARRY HRYB: He's in his menu managing his inventory. And, meanwhile, I'm on the other side of town.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Yeah.
LARRY HRYB: So it's-- but it's a lot of fun.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Pretty typical experience.
REBECCA GORDIUS: Which heroes have you guys been playing as?
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: I've been using Dev, who is like the paranormal YouTuber. I like his kit, which-- so his base-- his first skill that he gets is like this electrical spear type of thing. So he throws it. If it hits a character, it will like shock them.
And actually, you can-- if you hit a vampire with it, if they go all the way down in health, you don't even have to stake them. It will just like vaporize them. But if you miss, it'll land on the ground. And then it will still send off sort of AOE pulses.
Also has a teleporter. Almost every arkane game, every one that I can think of has sort of like a blink, a little teleportation type of thing. This is the closest I think to it. And so, Dev throws a little transponder or something. It's actually a little bit similar to LOBA in Apex Legends. And then you can teleport it.
But the good thing is, after you've done it, your teammate has a few seconds where they can also follow you. So a lot of times, very typical arcane design. You can go in the front door and start fighting. Or maybe you can climb up on a roof and go through a window.
LARRY HRYB: There's multiple paths.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Or some sort of other way.
LARRY HRYB: Yeah.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Exactly. Multiple ways to get to a particular place. So there's areas where there's sort of this blood mist. I just throw the thing over. Larry follows me across. We're good to go. So I'm kind of that way.
And then the alt is like a multiple version of that initial thing, where he plunks down multiple UV lights and creates an area of-- it's sort of a safe zone. You will heal within it. I upgraded that skill. But also, if you can lure a tougher vampire into that area or you deploy it at the right time, you make very quick work of them.
And I just like his voice over. And he talks to himself. And he talks to the other character. And they have some witty banter. And so I'm a sucker for that accent. So I'm a Dev-- I highly advocate for using Dev.
LARRY HRYB: Well, I, on the other hand, am using Jacob. I don't know if you know which one that is, Rebecca, or anybody listening, he's the ex-military character. And he's got-- his three skills are, he's got a raven that I can send out to locate enemies. And, Jeff, you see them all turn out right away when I do that and destroy them.
Cloak. I can click on cloak and I can kind of get behind the enemies. And Jeff and I can kind of do a squeeze play if we want to do that. And I was reading about it, Jeff. And apparently I can loan my power of invisibility to you. So we need to practice that. We haven't done that yet.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: We're moving too quick and firing off shots too quick. Stealth is out the window very quickly.
LARRY HRYB: Yeah. But the one that I the one that I just unlocked, because, again, Jeff and I are early in the game, is heart stopper. Which, we went to kind of work on basically what's a boss, and it's a supernatural rifle that can basically when you ADS zooms right in on the enemies. And it's like one shot, one kill.
And you can upgrade that to duration, and damage, and things like that. But it was pretty impressive. That's who I'm playing. I think we're-- again, I think they all complement each other in great ways, each of the characters and their skills. So it's-- what about you? Who are you playing, Rebecca?
REBECCA GORDIUS: Yeah. So I haven't started playing yet, but I already know I want to play as Layla. Not just because she's a girl.
LARRY HRYB: Right.
REBECCA GORDIUS: She has telekinetic abilities. Which, whenever I played Bioshock, I like to use the telekinesis. And in general, I'm just-- I don't know. I feel like in Elder Scrolls II, I'm just kind of always a fan of the combat from a distance. I would rather just shoot flames or do telekinesis rather than get up in someone's face. So, yeah, if you guys are looking for a Layla to join your squad.
LARRY HRYB: Now, Layla, just to remind her, Layla has an umbrella which can summon a purple shield that blocks enemies. You talked about the telekinesis where you can lift people up. And the ult is like the vampire ex-boyfriend, who comes in and apparently does a lot of damage. So I have not seen that yet. So we need to test that out.
REBECCA GORDIUS: Sounds draining. Ha ha. Vampire [INAUDIBLE] boyfriend.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: You're more of a Goth fan, you know? You're fine with that. You liked AFI growing up. I don't know.
LARRY HRYB: Let's see what else. So that's-- I'm playing that. We're all playing that a little bit. I'm playing Jedi Survivor. Jeff, might--
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Same. What do you think?
LARRY HRYB: You know, I love it.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Actually, more importantly, have you unlocked a mullet and/or a handlebar mustache?
LARRY HRYB: I've seen that, yes. I have not. I am too busy crafting my-- or kind of tweaking my light saber. And then also tweaking BD-1. So I want to make sure that BD-1 looks good. So I've been working on that. But now I'm working-- and I'm a little bit further ahead of you. Rebecca, you should check it out, I mean, as a Star Wars fan. Jeff, as he just said, isn't really a Star Wars fan.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: I am. I am. I was just trolling you.
REBECCA GORDIUS: He's more of a Star Trek guy. Yeah.
LARRY HRYB: He's waiting to be beamed up.
REBECCA GORDIUS: Yeah.
LARRY HRYB: But, yeah, that's kind of what's taking my time this week. But it's just been a busy, busy week. So I know you've been playing some Minecraft as well, right?
REBECCA GORDIUS: Yeah, I've been playing Minecraft Legends. I played a good amount like late last week and then kind of going into the weekend. But I had a girls' weekend so I've kind of been-- oh, yeah. He's just chilling. I've kind of been recovering from that. And then this has just been such a crazy busy news week. So it's a lot going on.
LARRY HRYB: Yeah, Jeff, we should probably-- we've got-- first of all, if you've read ahead, and hopefully you did not, but if you did, that's OK, we got a lot of interviews that are going to be coming up later on in the show. But I think we want to jump into the news because we don't have a lot of time here. We want to get into those interviews. So, Jeff, why don't you-- why don't you get us rolling here?
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Sure. So this week, we announced a special double feature, that is the Xbox Game Showcase and Starfield Direct. That will be airing on Sunday June 11th, just over a month from now, you're going to want to get comfy, because starting at-- it'll be 10:00 AM Pacific, and we have all the different local times. You can take it from there.
So immediately after the showcase, which is where you'll see first looks from our internal studios, our creative partners around the world, then we will go straight into a deep dive for Starfield. And that will include game play, developer interviews, and behind the scenes insider information. I cannot wait.
Now, we will also have a show like we did last year, and I want to say the year before, called the Xbox Game Showcase Extended. That will be on June 13. That is the Tuesday, also at 10:00 AM. With in-depth interviews focused on news from our Xbox Game Showcase and game updates from our partners. So plenty to watch there in early June.
LARRY HRYB: Yeah. We also we have FanFest.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Oh, go on. Go on with it. Yeah.
LARRY HRYB: Well, I'm going to fit FanFest guy. We got FanFest as well. But don't talk about that, Jeff, because we're actually going to be doing an interview later with Brina from the FanFest team.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: And I will leave that. But for those of you who are going to be in LA, or a number of other cities around the world--
LARRY HRYB: And I'm going to tell you in that interview where you can join me. Clue, it's not in LA. I'm going to be going to some other exotic location.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Oh. OK. All right.
LARRY HRYB: Stay tuned.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: I'll be in LA. So--
LARRY HRYB: Rebecca will be in LA too. So not that LA can't be exotic. But-- when you both are there, it is.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: All. Right so that is something I'm sure we'll be talking about quite a bit between now and then, but mark your calendars now. And, of course, you'll be able to watch all the places you're used to watching, like YouTube, or Twitch, or Facebook. And if you've got a device, you've got internet access, you'll be able to watch.
LARRY HRYB: Yep.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: It is May. And May is Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage month.
LARRY HRYB: It is.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Rebecca, would you like to tell us about what we're going to be doing in how we're going to be celebrating this month?
REBECCA GORDIUS: Yes. So not only am I the resident Asian member of this podcast, but I'm also a member of Asians at Xbox. So I'm super excited that it's May and Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage month. There's a lot of fun stuff going on internally and externally.
On the Asian Xbox team, we do a lot of different employee activities, like trivia, and panels, and learning opportunities, which I think are really cool. And it's great to get to showcase some different voices on the team. But then, also for our broader Xbox community, we have that Xbox Wire post that we had just up a second ago. And so it includes a few different ways people can get involved, different organizations to donate through via Microsoft rewards points, which are essentially points that you get for using Microsoft products.
We also have a lot of different resources, different games, and movies, and things like that for if you want to kind of learn or experience stories through the eyes of someone who's Asian or Pacific Islander. I saw there's like the Flight Sim, I think it's the Oceana update, which just shows you a little bit of the Pacific Islands, which is really cool.
And then we are also going to be featuring a lot of different Asian Pacific Islander streamers on the Xbox Twitch channel this month, which is a cool way to get to find some new streamers that you might want to start following. So head over to Xbox Wire for the full details, but I really enjoy this month. It's great.
LARRY HRYB: Fun.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Yeah, you mentioned, I think it's really important, with Microsoft rewards-- because when you're just playing games on Game Pass, or if you use Bing for search, and there's other ways to earn as well, I'll like not think about it, and then I'll go look at the balance and I'll realize--
LARRY HRYB: What do you do with your points?
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Huh?
LARRY HRYB: What do you do with your points?
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: I usually donate them. So--
LARRY HRYB: I do too.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Same.
REBECCA GORDIUS: I know in the past I've donated to stop AAPI Hate last year. And I will likely do so again this year. And so sometimes you just forget about it and you look at it, I'm like, oh, this is--
LARRY HRYB: Yeah.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: It's kind of found money.
LARRY HRYB: I've got a bank.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: I like to pay it forward. Yep.
LARRY HRYB: Yeah. Fun. All right, Jeff, what else you got over there on the news desk?
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Sure. So a few games that are available this week with Game Pass. Of course, we talked about Redfall. Another one, and we'll be talking a little bit more about it, but hearing really good things, which is Ravenlok. That was a game that we first saw at last year's showcase. And it is available now.
And it's by the folks Cococumber. They've made some really cool games that I got into earlier this year. So this one looks quite a bit different, but I like the studio. I see you've got it downloaded here, Larry. I've got it downloaded as well. And so I'll be checking that out.
LARRY HRYB: We have an interview later on about it in our bevy of interviews, in our collection of interviews.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: And then coming up next week, Weird West: the Definitive Edition, coming to Xbox Series X and S. The Shadow Run Trilogy, highly acclaimed, coming to PC. So if you have PC Game Pass or Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. Fuga: Melodies of Steel II is also coming on May 11.
Another game I want to call out just because I'm a huge fan of the studio, Capybara Games, you may know them as Cappy. They've had lots of great games throughout the decade plus. I'm thinking of games like-- well, my favorite that they've ever done was Heroes of Might and Magic HD. They were going back to the 360 days on that one.
Critter Crunch. What was the game-- it was called like WTF? But it had like an acronym, WTAF? Something like that. That was early in the 360 days. And anyway, so they had a game that I played on iOS, I want to say, but they've now brought it and up ressed it and made it a very fun puzzle game called Grindstone, which is now available.
I really enjoyed that. Very sort of a strategic puzzle game. Actually, maybe a little bit of the DNA of Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes HD at a base level. But certainly, this team knows how to put a puzzle game together. And so definitely worth checking out Grindstone from our Canadian friends, Capybara Games.
LARRY HRYB: It's funny, you think Canadian, but-- they are Canadian, of course. But Capybara is an animal that I think comes from like Australia. So it's--
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: I think South America?
LARRY HRYB: Is it South America? I've always thought--
REBECCA GORDIUS: Is it?
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Yeah.
LARRY HRYB: I stand corrected.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Yeah. Sorry to correct you, but--
LARRY HRYB: That's OK.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: --not really sorry to correct you. I--
LARRY HRYB: Either way-- either way--
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: I see Rebecca googling this.
LARRY HRYB: I don't know if they're native to Canada. But either way, Capybara Games is. And we're thrilled to have on the platform.
REBECCA GORDIUS: South America. Wow.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: South America. From South America. Cute, cute in any region. Yeah. You know what you might be thinking of is a quokka, which is a very adorable rodent from Australia that looks similar, but--
LARRY HRYB: I'm definitely not thinking of that, But I did learn something today.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Q-U-O-K-K-A, they're among like the most adorable animals imaginable.
LARRY HRYB: Are they the little ones?
REBECCA GORDIUS: It is super cute.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: I think they're reasonably small.
LARRY HRYB: OK.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Am I wrong? Because that's like top five cute. That's--
LARRY HRYB: Quokka.
REBECCA GORDIUS: Yeah. It's adorable.
LARRY HRYB: What a fun name too. Go ahead, Jeff. More news. More news.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Maybe there's a Quokka Studio somewhere. And then you can say they're from South America. OK. So all of us here that are on this show, and I think probably a fair amount of our listeners, are Game Pass members.
And I've been using-- I use PC Game Pass specifically quite a bit. Actually, here on this very device when I'm done for the day. You might have friends that are interested in trying something out, but they don't have Game Pass.
LARRY HRYB: What would we do-- what to do, Jeff? How do you solve that problem?
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Well, you can set up you're buddies with-- we have a Buddy Pass. It's the Game Pass friend referral program. And so if you have Xbox Game Pass Ultimate or PC Game Pass, you can give up to five friends a free 14 day PC Game Pass trial.
So let's say you want to play through a game together. Let's say you want to try out Redfall and you want to have them come along for the ride, you can offer them-- there it is. You can offer them this trial. There's a link there where you can click to invite them. Also if you launch the Xbox app, you should see a pop up there. We talk about how you can find it.
And, of course, PC Game Pass includes not just like literally hundreds of games that are from the Xbox store, but also access to Riot Games, where you can link your account and unlock all these legends and folks from VALORANT, and League, and Teamfight Tactics.
And then also, EA Play. So you could actually play FIFA together, or I think NHL. Actually, I think they put some of the jedi stuff into NHL, which is really cool. So anyway, bring your friends along.
LARRY HRYB: Five. You can bring up to five friends.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: There you go. Worth checking out.
REBECCA GORDIUS: That's cool because people always say that they choose the console or they choose the device where their friends are. And so it's like, if you're playing this and you have your friends playing too, now you can have them also try out Game Pass, if they're not already using it.
LARRY HRYB: So check out that-- check out that blog post at news.Xbox.com.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Yes. Or just launch your Xbox app on your PC. Last thing, you might have seen that we did this last year, and we're back bigger and better this year. We have teamed up with OPI, the world leading nail polish manufacturer, for some really nice summertime colors. And also an exclusive new controller.
So there is what is called the Sun Kissed Vibes OPI special Edition Xbox wireless controller. It's not just the color, but it's actually the finish on this controller, which looks really nice. It features four stunning summer shades that are inspired by OPI's new Summer: Make the Rules collection, which is a collection of nail polishes.
LARRY HRYB: Hold on, Jeff. We have samples of those colors right now over here.
REBECCA GORDIUS: It's so funny that you've been saying that because--
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Oh. I'll shut up. And I'm going to-- that is very nice. Go on.
REBECCA GORDIUS: I know. I was like, oh, that video looks nice, but I could also just show you what it looks like.
LARRY HRYB: But this is better.
REBECCA GORDIUS: I know. This has to be the cutest package I've ever received from Xbox. So it opens up.
LARRY HRYB: Oh, there they are.
REBECCA GORDIUS: And you have the four shades, and then also the controller. And this is also probably the cutest controller-- Minecraft Pig controller was also really cute.
LARRY HRYB: Ah, you're bias to that.
REBECCA GORDIUS: This is one of the cutest controllers I've ever seen.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Very stylish. Now, I can't help but notice your thumb, Rebecca.
REBECCA GORDIUS: I know. I gave myself a multi color manicure today.
LARRY HRYB: Are those all the colors that are on the controller?
REBECCA GORDIUS: Yes. So there are four. I have five fingers, though. So there are these four colors here. So we have, this one's called Surf Naked, and it's kind of a metallic with a matte finish. This one is Sanding In Stilettos. These names are really funny, but OPI always has really creative nail polish colors, which is also a metallic with a matte finish.
And then this one is Summer Monday Through Fridays, which I don't know if you can really see, but it's like a lime green. And then this one is called Flex On The Beach. And these colors actually match so perfectly with the controller. Oh, it looks-- you can't quite see--
LARRY HRYB: There.
REBECCA GORDIUS: Yeah. You can kind of see it there.
LARRY HRYB: There we go. That looks--
REBECCA GORDIUS: Yeah, but you can see-- so there's the blue, the lime green. So this is probably the brightest and coolest Xbox thing that I've ever received. I love this controller. It has a really nice-- like you can even tell, it has that metallic finish, which really matches the shade of the Sanding In Stilettos, which is the main color. So this is super cool. And this package is available globally. I think it already sold out of pre-orders at Target in the US.
LARRY HRYB: Or it's close to it, yeah.
REBECCA GORDIUS: --more available.
LARRY HRYB: Yeah.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Yeah, there's going to be more available when it launches next week. And then it's also available through the Microsoft Store. So I think this is a kind of a really cool combination. But, yeah.
LARRY HRYB: No, it looks great. And it's all-- our partnership team, we did-- a lot of folks don't remember it, but we did this last year, a very similar promotion with OPI, where we had the names of some of the-- inspired from the games were on the nail polishes. So it's kind of a different take on it. So it's great to see that. So thank you for showing that off, Rebecca.
REBECCA GORDIUS: Yeah. It's cool that there's actually a controller this year. I think when I chatted with the partnerships team last time, they said everyone was like, why don't we do a controller?
LARRY HRYB: Well, now we have.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Here we are.
LARRY HRYB: Fun.
REBECCA GORDIUS: It's perfect.
LARRY HRYB: All right. Thank you for that. We'll show that-- I've got one here as well. I think I may be giving these away actually on Free Code Friday, which is a little contest I like to do out there on that Twitter.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Only when you want to trend, Larry.
LARRY HRYB: Well it's just NBD. What else we got there, Jeff, for news?
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Those are your-- those are your big news.
LARRY HRYB: I got a little something though.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: Do you?
LARRY HRYB: Well, we announced this week a piece of hardware, The Viewsonic x2 4K gaming projector for Xbox, which is coming to the US. So it's a special gaming projector. I'm going to try to get one in and check it out. Do use that projector at your place, Rebecca? I know Jeff doesn't. I've been to his.
REBECCA GORDIUS: I was shopping for one a while ago. I really want one. But I don't have one yet. Yeah.
LARRY HRYB: Yeah. So I'm going to-- I'll let you know on that. But this is a licensed-- I mean, it's made for Xbox. So it's going to have all the--
REBECCA GORDIUS: I mean, 4K. That's super cool.
LARRY HRYB: HDR. 4K. It's crazy. So we'll have more details on that one. But that's exciting that, again, our partnership team and our hardware team does some amazing, amazing work. So-- whoo. So much going on.
JEFF RUBENSTEIN: You all right?
REBECCA GORDIUS: Yeah?
LARRY HRYB: I'm just-- there's so much going on. And we've got interviews to get to now, right? All right. Rebecca, why don't you-- why don't you get us into those interviews?
REBECCA GORDIUS: Yeah. So we have-- we already talked about briefly Ravenlok. We have Brina from our team chatting about FanFest. We have a couple of folks joining from Forza Motorsport to talk about the blind accessibility feature. Coffee talk, too. And then finally, The Last Case of Benedict Fox. It's a lot of interviews. So let's get into it.
LARRY HRYB: Ravenlok from Cococucumber is now available over there on Xbox. We were really excited today to talk to Vanessa Chia, the game director and writer at Cococucumber. Vanessa, thank you, and welcome to the show.
VANESSA CHIA: Yeah. Thanks for having me on the show.
LARRY HRYB: Very excited. Yeah, no, I'm excited to have you. I know that folks remember, or maybe they don't, Ravenlok was announced at the Xbox Bethesda Showcase last year. It's coming to Game Pass. And it is now available. It's available on Xbox. And it's on Xbox One, Windows PC, Epic Games, so on and so forth.
But let's jump in a little bit and talk about Ravenlok the game, because people may remember it. And I'm going to play a little bit of it here, because it's got a really fascinating, fascinating visual art style. But tell us about the game.
VANESSA CHIA: Yeah. So Ravenlok is an action adventure. It's an action packed fairy tale. So you play this young woman who has fallen into a wonderful, but dangerous realm that's been threatened by the corruption of an evil queen. So in the game itself, you'll see a good mix of quests, of puzzles, as well as real time combat with your sword and shield, as well as magic skills.
LARRY HRYB: Now, tell us a little bit about Cococucumber, because folks may remember the name. You've done some other games in the past. Tell us about those.
VANESSA CHIA: Yeah. So our other games include Echo Generation, which we released in 2021. So that's a turn based adventure game set in a real world, kind of '80s and '90s inspired. So a lot of folks kind of know our game for-- know our studio, rather, from that game. And, yeah, we're really happy that players will be able to experience a new kind of fantasy adventure in Ravenlok when it comes out-- well, when it's out, like right now.
LARRY HRYB: When it's out. Go play it. Well, don't play it now because you're watching and listening to this podcast. Tell us what you and the team, what inspired you to create the game? And what was it like working in the fantasy genre?
VANESSA CHIA: Yeah. So for Ravenlok, I'm really inspired by the fantasy classics, such as The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, Alice in Wonderland, the animation of Studio Ghibli. All of these really contribute to a rich tapestry that is Ravenlok.
There's something really wonderfully nostalgic about revisiting these inspirations as an adult. Because it really allows us to play in this fantasy genre. It's like a playground for us, how we can do so much with the music, the imagery, the story. And Ravenlok itself has the story about-- a universal story about growing up and choosing to listen to your heart. I hope that this coming of age theme really resonates with people when they play Ravenlok.
LARRY HRYB: Ravenlok is the final entry into what Cococucumber is calling its Voxel Trilogy. Can you talk about how these games build off each other and how they interconnect?
VANESSA CHIA: Sure. So the Voxel Trilogy is made of three games, that would be Riverbond, Echo Generation, and Ravenlok. The through line for all three, of course, is the Voxel art style. So this kind of cupid, blocky art style, which we've been improving from game to game.
So for example, in Riverbond, things were a lot more blocky and the resolution size was a lot smaller. But as we get into something like Ravenlok, we've learned a lot about what works with this Voxel art style. So the resolution is much larger, much bigger. There's this 3D pixel texture, which is far more detailed in order to provide a grander experience for people. So we wanted to tell the story in a more cinematic way. And hopefully this Voxel art style that has been improving from game to game really is something that we're able to show our vision through the art style. Yeah.
LARRY HRYB: No, we've been playing-- if you're watching this on YouTube or over on Spotify video, the podcast is available on video as well, we've been showing some of the game play. And it's got such a unique art style. Tell us about the art style. And you, as the game director and as the writer, what kind of direction did you give to your art team? Or did they come to you and say, here's what we have? Tell us about that collaboration.
VANESSA CHIA: Yeah. A lot of it really comes from the inspirations that we have, like I mentioned before. So kind of using that as a starting point, we really wanted to put our mark on it. So a lot of the characters that, say, for example, from Alice in Wonderland that we took as an inspiration, we built onto that and say, oh, how can we kind of reinterpret this in a way that would make our story or the story that we're trying to tell really shine? So, yeah, a lot of the imagery came from source material. But, of course, we put our own stamp on that.
The Voxel art style is also one which is really difficult-- notoriously difficult to manage because it's kind of a very blocky art style. So sometimes when you look at it things can be very kind of cubic and there's lots of hard edges. So in a way we've kind of evolved the style to be a little bit more rounded, a bit more friendly that would suit this kind of fantasy genre.
LARRY HRYB: So would you say you took the Voxel art style and kind of made it your own, made it Cococucumbers. Would that be an accurate description?
VANESSA CHIA: Absolutely. Yeah. It's something that we hope that people can see, that, yeah, when they say Echo Generation they kind of recognize our style through that. And in Ravenlok hopefully they will as well.
LARRY HRYB: Now, we showed-- we've been showing the game play here, if you've been watching the video with some of the game play. Now, you're eight people. How does it-- how does Cococucumber on a team of eight people create something of this magnitude?
VANESSA CHIA: Yeah. That's a great question. Yeah. And, yeah, it's a great question. So while Martin and I, our co-- our other co-founder and I mostly kind of started off the company together in 2014. Our team really came together when we created Echo Generation, so this team of eight.
And we made this--well, Echo Generation, at least, during the pandemic. And I guess Ravenlok too if you're considering that the pandemic is still ongoing.
LARRY HRYB: Yeah.
VANESSA CHIA: So, yeah. It's made by a really small, tight knit team. And I believe that really helps us. In a way, it helps us focus our creativity on a project in order to kind of forget all of the things in the world that may not be as good going on. And, yeah, I'm really grateful for that.
LARRY HRYB: One of the things, of course, we talked about at the beginning, Ravenlok is from Cococucumber, now available on Xbox Game Pass. Game Pass has been-- must be very helpful for you to be able to unlock an instant audience. Tell us a little bit about that is as someone on the game development side.
VANESSA CHIA: Yeah. Game Pass has been great for us. So Riverbond was released on Game Pass. Echo Generation was released on Game Pass. And now Ravenlok is also released on Game Pass. So all three games has really benefited from a big audience. And so grateful for our partnership with Xbox for this, just because so many players can play it.
And for an indie, especially, it's really difficult for people to just jump in or take a risk on certain IPs, especially ours, which are original IPs. So, yeah, with Game Pass people can just jump in and play. So I'm really happy about that.
LARRY HRYB: Yeah. And I know that gamers-- sitting on both sides, where I get to talk to great people like yourselves with game creators and developers, and gamers, they love being able to go in and have this variety, this buffet of games where they can kind of dip in and dip out and sample your wares. First of all, I know you don't have much time, but here I want to kind of wrap it up a little bit by talking about, Ravenlok is-- we talked about, it's kind of a third in a trilogy. But tell us about, what is next for Cococucumber?
VANESSA CHIA: Oh, what's next. That's the question. Yeah. So we're excited about the future. There are so many ideas that we have kind of knocking around, because we are always up for a new challenge. But, yeah, we also like to listen to our fans.
And so far, while there have been some requests for a sequel to Riverbond, there have been many more requests for a sequel to Echo Generation. So I'm not promising anything, but, yeah, we're listening to the fans. And hopefully, whatever the future brings, that everybody will be able to join us in a new adventure together.
LARRY HRYB: I just-- I have some more game play here, and I just want to show it. Because it's such-- Ravenlok is such a beautiful game. It's got such a fascinating art style. And this team of eight people, you guys are up there in Canada, have done such great job.
And available on Game Pass now. Go check it out. It's a delight to play. It's a feast for the eyes. And I can't say enough about it. You just really need to check it out. Vanessa Chia, any final words before I let you go?
VANESSA CHIA: Nope. Just go play Ravenlok and have fun.
LARRY HRYB: FanFest, Xbox FanFest, I am so excited. I'm talking to Brina Hatcher today. Brina, welcome to the podcast. You've never been on the show, but we finally got you here.
BRINA HATCHER: Yes, it is a first. I'm excited to be here with you, Larry.
LARRY HRYB: Big news this week. Of course, we announced earlier this week about the Xbox showcase, which is coming up. But more importantly, FanFest is back. So tell us a little bit about that.
BRINA HATCHER: Yeah, we've got lots of great opportunities with Xbox FanFest. We are hosting, first and foremost, a virtual event, in which everybody can come and join and watch the Xbox Game Showcase followed by Starfield Direct. And then we'll have some additional digital festivities for everybody to enjoy after that.
And then we are doing a sweepstakes for anybody to win a trip to our LA watch party event. So that's super exciting. The winner will be able to bring a guest with them, of course, as well. And then, finally, we are hosting in-person watch parties around the world. One in Sydney-- sorry-- Melbourne, Australia.
LARRY HRYB: Melbourne. Yep.
BRINA HATCHER: The other in Poland in Warsaw. Another one in Sao Paulo, Brazil. And then we have our Los Angeles event that I mentioned in the US.
LARRY HRYB: Yep.
BRINA HATCHER: And then finally we have our Mexico City event in Mexico, which maybe, Larry, you have a little something to share about that one.
LARRY HRYB: I sure do. This is actually-- I'm really excited. I am going to be down-- going to Mexico City for the event. I will be hosting it. So if you're in the Mexico City area, you'll have to sign up. And Brina is going to tell you how to do that in just a moment. For all the events, you'll need to sign up. Unless you want to sit at home and watch it, then you don't need to sign up. You just watch it.
So there's really exciting-- because last year I went down to Melbourne, Australia, which was amazing. It was-- just as it turned summer up here in the northern hemisphere, I went on down to Australia for what was going into fall. And it was such a great time to be down there with the hundreds, and hundreds, and hundreds of Xbox fans.
And this year, the team came to me and said, hey, you did Melbourne last year. Do you want to go to Mexico City? And I said, yeah, I'd love to. So I will be going down to Mexico City hosting that. Brina, but people-- for these in-person events, people need to sign up. How do they do that?
BRINA HATCHER: Yes. Just go to Xbox.com/FanFest, or aka.mf/XboxFanFest. And log in. Here's the site. You'll go and sign up, or log in if you're already registered. And then there will be a page that is all about the special access that FanFest is bringing for the Xbox Game Showcase and Starfield Direct.
And then you'll just sign up with each activity that you want to participate in. So super easy. And we'll notify winners of our sweepstakes on May 11. So pay attention to that if you've signed up. Otherwise, good luck to everybody.
LARRY HRYB: There's not a lot of time. Go sign up as you're-- hopefully you're listening to this before May 11th. Go sign up right now. And you could sign up to attend one of the locations around the globe. If you're in Mexico City, I would love to see you. If you're over in Warsaw, we'd love to see you there. Sao Paulo, we would love to see you. Melbourne, Australia, or LA.
And then as Brina said, we are signing up someone to go to LA to join now. I've been in LA for 15, 20 years doing our events down there. And I'll miss you all in LA, but I'm going to go down and represent Xbox in Mexico. Because I love the fans. I love the fans everywhere, but they are just super, super duper fun down there in Mexico City.
BRINA HATCHER: Yeah. It's always great to have you in different spots to so we can hear about all of the fun. We wish we could be at all of them at one time, right? But we've got to spread the love.
LARRY HRYB: Yeah. I want to-- I also want to thank you and the team. Because coming out of COVID, it was like, do we still continue to do live events or in-person events? We're certainly doing live events. And you and I experimented. We were out in Boston, what was it? Last month or the month before? We went out to Boston to do a quick little hit. It was great to see everybody there.
So we're going to experiment with a few things. We're going to do some fun stuff. You don't know where we're going to pop up. I may be popping up. It may be Malik. It may be Kelly. Who knows? But it will be someone from the team.
So Brina and her team are the ones that basically tell us, hey, want to go over here and have some fun? So that's what we're going to do. Right? Anything else you want to tell us about, Brina?
BRINA HATCHER: I will just add that our sweeps entries end on May 9. So when we notify on May 11, the entries end on the 9th. But you can continue to sign up to attend virtual all the way through the end of that live show. So please join us in whatever way you can. There's nothing like watching together amongst fellow fans. So hopefully you can join us.
LARRY HRYB: Yeah, it's always fun to be there, like I said, when I was there in Melbourne. We used to do it in LA. And it was interesting, because in LA over the past few years-- well, not past few years. But earlier, a few years ago, we would have this side event to our big main event. But now they've kind of merged together, both in person as well as virtual. So it's great to see.
I mean, everybody knows-- hopefully you know how important fans are for Xbox. We love doing fan events. We've got a whole team. Brina and her team come up with these great ideas, whether it's a virtual event like the trivia you do or these in-person events. So it's always fun to see.
And I remember, I think Brina, you and I talked about this, many years ago when-- I think it was before you joined the team-- is that I would do little fan events on the side where I was getting fans excited. And it's so great to see the whole organization just now all behind it. So thank you.
BRINA HATCHER: Yeah, absolutely. It's so much fun to do. And we love the Xbox fans and the community. So happy to be able to organize these for everyone.
LARRY HRYB: All right. So here's your-- as we like to say, here's your go do. Go to aka.ms/XboxFanFest. Sign up. There's a couple of things you can sign up for, as Brina said. You'll see it all there. But make sure you register to join us in LA or-- join Brina and the team in LA. I think Phil will be there. I don't know.
Or if you want to-- if you're somewhere else in the globe and you want to just attend one of our events there as well, then go ahead and do that. But please sign up, because we want to have you there. And we want to make sure you get on the list. It doesn't cost anything. We just want to make sure that we can decide-- we can make sure we know how many people are going to be there. That's the only reason we have sign ups. Right, Brina?
BRINA HATCHER: Exactly. And it's a random draw. So everybody has the same chance to win. So go and sign up.
LARRY HRYB: Good luck. All right, Brina. We'll let you go. Thank you. Thank you.
BRINA HATCHER: Thanks for having me.
LARRY HRYB: Oh, you're welcome to come back any time. And Mexico City, I'm coming down to see you. And we'll have more details on future shows going up for the next month or so. Thanks, Brina. We'll talk to you soon.
BRINA HATCHER: Great. Thanks. Bye.
LARRY HRYB: Really great week for Forza. You probably saw some great news last week about their accessibility options. And I'm really thrilled to be going a little bit deeper on that. I have Neha here from Turn 10. Neha, great to see you.
NEHA CHINTALA: Great to see you too. Thanks for having me.
LARRY HRYB: And then Brandon Cole is joining us. Hi, Brandon.
BRANDON COLE: Hey there. Good to be-- glad to be here. It's an honor, let me tell you.
LARRY HRYB: Well, it is a delight to see you. You and I have run across each other at various Xbox events. But I'm so excited to talk to you both, because this is a fascinating project. For those of you who don't know, Forza Motorsport has a blind driving assist feature. And you've probably seen it. There was a little piece on CNN about it and some other places as well.
But I wanted to get you both on and talk about it. And tell us-- explain what it is. Because it's something that maybe-- folks that are sighted may not understand it. But, Neha, could you explain to us what the feature is as we jump in.
NEHA CHINTALA: Absolutely. So our blind driving assist feature was a set of features built for players who are blind or have low vision. The system works by providing a set of supplemental audio cues that provide our blind and low vision players with audible information, such as how to get around the track, their position, how they're going through a corner or a turn, when we get to accelerate or decelerate, when to shift, et cetera. And so each of these cues are created and designed to build up the system that is now blind driving assistance.
LARRY HRYB: Now, Brandon, you've been involved with helping develop this feature, from what I understand, for a couple of years now. What has it been like for you to work with Turn 10 who has now unlocked something for you that, my understanding is, you couldn't do before.
BRANDON COLE: Yeah, it's been absolutely great. The great thing about working with Turn 10 is I do it almost every week, almost every single week. So it has really become my biggest project to date in a lot of ways, because I get to work with the team directly. I have direct input on almost every aspect of the game because accessibility affects so many things. I mean, if you want to talk about narration, every screen I've talked about.
LARRY HRYB: Yeah.
BRANDON COLE: It's been fantastic to work with them on that.
LARRY HRYB: Neha, what is it like to go, hey, we're going to bring blind driving assist to a driving game? And driving by its nature, you need vision and you need to pay attention. What was it like bringing this feature to life? And what were some of the challenges, other than the obvious, that you ran into?
NEHA CHINTALA: I think bringing the feature to life, we set out to try and do something that was pretty intense. We really wanted to bring new gamers into our atmosphere, into our game. And so we thought about brainstorming different things that we could do accessibility wise. We started out with blind driving assists.
And it took a lot of research, and prototyping, and understanding what information we all perceive as sighted gamers, and working on giving as much of that information to everyone as possible. And so there definitely was a challenge in bringing this to life. But--
LARRY HRYB: Yeah, I mean--
NEHA CHINTALA: I think with the help of Brandon--
LARRY HRYB: No, no. When I think about the things that we as sighted folks take for granted, that when playing a video game, and playing driving in Forza, there's just so many cues that you see, whether it's the rear view mirror, whether it's the steering wheel, whether it's one of the gauges. There's so much data. How were you able to take that data and present it in a way that Brandon and folks could understand it?
NEHA CHINTALA: I think when you look at which audio cues we work with, we're working on getting the audible information to tell a player their position on track, their orientation of where they are, how they're approaching each of the turns, and how they're progressing through each of the turns. And so through various different audio cues that we've built in, which make up our blind driving assist system, your player is able to get that same information. Brandon can give you the details about how he uses each of these cues as well.
LARRY HRYB: Yeah, I'd love to. Brandon, I mean, before we get into that, though, I want to talk about-- you're a video gamer. And this has been challenging, I can imagine, because you can't find the right games that you can play that you can see. So it must have been exciting when Turn 10 came and tapped you on the shoulder and said, hey, come help us.
BRANDON COLE: Well, yeah. I mean, of course. Absolutely it was. I've worked in this industry for a few years now, even before Turn 10. I was known for my work on The last of Us: Part Two, and things like that. So I've been a consultant for a while. And to be able to consult on this particular project was really awesome for me. Because the way I set goals in my career are genre based.
My philosophy is, I want to bring the blind community experiences they don't have yet. And so I brought them in action adventure with The Last of Us. And now I'm bringing them a fully-- a sim racing game with Forza. And it's pretty awesome to get that opportunity.
LARRY HRYB: By the way, before we get into using the feature, tell us about the reception from the community, the blind community, for what we've announced.
BRANDON COLE: The reception has honestly been explosively positive. I mean, really, really positive. It's so great, first of all, just to see the interest, just to see people going, wow, this is amazing. I can't wait to try this. But it goes beyond that. It goes to people that are saying, well, guess I'm buying an Xbox now. This has already sold consoles to blind gamers.
Not only that, they want to support it fully. I saw one report of someone who said, that even though Forza is going to be on Game Pass, they're like, no. No. If there's a limited edition, getting that. They just want to support this. And that's one of the things I always tell game developers is accessibility breeds loyalty. You make a game accessible, you will find that people will stick with it and basically support that company to the max.
LARRY HRYB: Yeah. It's also important, you talked about some of the work you did with The Last of Us. As you said, you've been in the industry for a while. Tell us about some of the ideas or some of the concepts that you brought to the team when they were presenting this feature to you and said, oh, you have to have this, you have to have this.
BRANDON COLE: Yeah, I think I think one of the greatest things I brought to the team, in my opinion, was perspective. One of the things that a lot of people didn't consider, and I'm seeing this in the reactions to our interviews too, that this tends to be the thing that blows a lot of minds, one of the things that wasn't really considered very well is that the people that are coming to this game, the blind community we're welcoming to this game, are people who have, number one, maybe never played a racing game before.
There are audio only racing games that they might have tried. And they might have messed around with other games, like Forza Motorsport VII, or Forza Horizon V, which have some accessibility features. Not to this level, but they do have some that the blind can use. So they may have tried those. But they haven't really fully experienced what we're offering with a racing game like this.
And number two, many blind people don't really know how cars work. That's just a fact. I've been in many cars in my life, but I don't drive them. So we had to design from the perspective of people who just don't know how driving works. One of the things I keep pointing out is that I did not know that when you're in a race, you're supposed to slow down as you go into a turn.
LARRY HRYB: Right.
BRANDON COLE: I didn't know that. I had to learn that. Because my idea was, well, it's a racing game, right? So doesn't that mean you go as fast as you can all the time? No, it does not. There's a lot of little things that I had to learn in order to make this work. And that perspective I think really helped the team out a lot.
And along with that, I brought along my understanding of audio cues and how that kind of design works. And help them differentiate the audio cues, help them decide which audio cues worked for each kind of event to not overwhelm the player by making each sound distinct and different, but also making it notable, something you'll pay attention to.
LARRY HRYB: When you were-- I don't know your history of being blind, but I assume you've been blind for quite some time and you don't drive normally. When you were presented with this opportunity with Forza, and they say, hey, you're going to be able to drive, as you said, that's something you've never done in real life before. So this must really have unlocked all sorts of excitement for you.
BRANDON COLE: Oh, it definitely did. It definitely did. It was-- it's incredibly exciting to-- I mean, the first time I made it around the track without crashing horribly into everything was amazing to me.
LARRY HRYB: Yeah.
BRANDON COLE: The first time I completed a race-- and I have completed races. And I have gotten first place against AI. So this thing works. And let me tell you, it feels pretty good when it does.
LARRY HRYB: Well, I simply must say, I know that Forza-- for those of us who've been playing Forza for a while, there's the concept of drivatar and these other players. So apologies in advance if you run into my drivatar because he tends not to be very-- feel free to kind of bump him off the road if you're doing that.
BRANDON COLE: Oh, happily. Happily. It'll happen.
LARRY HRYB: Neha, tell us about-- as you were developing this project, we talked about it, it took a few years in development. When did you realize like, hey, I think we nailed it. I think this is it.
NEHA CHINTALA: I think it's that moment that Brandon talked about. The group was sitting together. We were doing a group play test session with the audio team. And folks were tweaking different numbers. Todd from your audio team, that you probably also see in [INAUDIBLE], I called it out and he's like, but, Brandon, you're doing this. Oh, my gosh. You're getting through this track without the kind of limits.
And so that excitement that you can also see-- we put a small snippet of it in our video asset release. But that session, that one play test session when Brandon was able to complete a successful lap, was when we realized we had hit the nail on the head. We were able to do something that we had not done before. And that was fantastic.
LARRY HRYB: Yeah. I mean, that's exactly what it's all about is being able to do that. And I know, Brandon, you know, you've been on Xbox and Xbox Live for some time. So it must be great for you when you're going to be able to race around the course and come in and number one and let people know that, hey, I'm number one and you got beat by a blind person. Right? That's amazing.
BRANDON COLE: Hey, you know what? I love the idea that right now I'm the best blind player in the world. We'll see how long it lasts. But right now, I'll take it.
LARRY HRYB: Neha, tell us about-- the Xbox has a long history of accessibility in our DNA. Tell us about some of the ideas that you brought back to the main platform team of what you've learned working on this project.
NEHA CHINTALA: We do work closely with the team, and with all of our other accessibility champs across, but the learnings that we got from working on this feature are, one, to invest resources into bringing accessibility features to life. That is so important. If there are teams out there where you are trying to find resources and convince your leadership, let me know. I'm happy to share all the learnings I have so that we can all make our games as accessible as possible.
The other thing that we think about is things like screen aeration, systems that can work in every title across Xbox, if people put the time and effort into making that portion accessible. And so it would be awesome if we could collaborate and partner on a way to have an Xbox system that works the same way. And so people have this standardization. These are goals. These are ideas, things that we would love to work on moving forward. But just things like that got us where we are today.
LARRY HRYB: Phil has always said-- and I know, Brandon, you've heard Phil say this, is that accessibility is not a destination, it's a journey, and everything we learn along the way. This is part of it. Brandon, I want to talk about the feature itself. You said you're the best blind driving player in the world, and I agree with you.
How hard is it going to be for folks that are listening right now when they get their hands on this feature to really learn? You've had much more-- you've been involved from the beginning. But what about some folks that maybe haven't had the chance, that are just playing for the first time and just starting?
BRANDON COLE: Yeah. I absolutely 100% admit there is a learning curve here. It is a complex series of systems. And the thing is, it needed to be. Because we're providing the blind player a lot of information. And we're dealing with the factors that you have to consider when taking a fully simulated racing game to task here.
So things like our look ahead system to help with your reaction time, things like the way the steering guide works, just the inner workings of all this stuff had to be very, very finely tuned. So it is complex. And I'm happy to say that we're doing as much as we can to provide the blind player with as much information as we can before they get on the track. They do have the option of listening to every single audio cue separately while they're in the Options menu, even while they modify the audio cue so they can hear the different pitches and volumes of each cue.
Not only that, we have this really, really cool audio preview for each feature. Each blind driving assist feature has--you can press a button when you're highlighting it and you'll get kind of an audio explanation of what that feature is, and what the system means, and how it works. Complete with examples as well. So we're doing a lot. And also, even the tool tips are there to help.
The tool tips, which are fully narrated by screen narrator, just going to an option, highlighting it, waiting for a second, you'll get that tool tip that reads to you the basic information of what it is. But even those, we kind of made complex.
We made those informative, just to give the blind player as much information as we possibly can going in. Because, yes, there is a learning curve. But I absolutely believe it can and will be learned. And the blind are going to love this.
LARRY HRYB: Brandon, Neha, on behalf of everybody at Xbox, I want to thank you for all the great work you put in to the blind driving assistant. And Brandon, especially, I want to thank you for all the great work you've been doing across the industry.
BRANDON COLE: Absolutely. Thank you. It's good to be here.
NEHA CHINTALA: Yeah. Thanks for having us.
KELLY: Hi, and welcome to this wonderful interview that we are about to do. I'm Kelly. And I am joined with Sarah, who is head of marketing at Toge Productions. And we're chatting all about Coffee Talk II-- Hibiscus and Butterfly. How are you today, Sarah?
SARAH: Hi, Kelly. I'm good. How are you?
KELLY: Good. So Coffee Shop II launched late April, April 20. And I was curious if you could tell us a little bit about how the series came about and what players can expect for Coffee Talk II?
SARAH: Well, I think there's a funny-- a bit of funny story about Coffee Talk II. We didn't intend it to be a sequel of the game. At first it was just a DLC. But then somehow during the development of the DLC, we were like, I think this is already too big-- the scope is already too big for a DLC, but it's too small to be its own game.
So we end up, OK, maybe we can have another writer to help with this. And then in the middle of the way, we had a new writer joining us, an extra writer. And then it became Coffee Talk II.
And what players can expect from the second game, of course, there will be new characters, new stories, new [INAUDIBLE], and there will be new ingredients that people can experiment with in the game. And we actually have extra feature as well in the game, like in the Coffee Talk II we have inventory system where the characters can give items, and the barista can give items. It can be to the right person or to the wrong person, but it will impact the story. So there will be more branching compared to the first one.
KELLY: Yeah. Because I know in the first one there are like special drink combinations that you can make that will unlock some content. So it's really interesting to see take that kind of even a step further. And speaking of, do you have a favorite drink to make in the game? If you were to have a drink named after you, what would yours be?
SARAH: Oh, OK, that's a tough question. But I think I was asked this question before. And because I'm the type of person who loves taking pictures of my drinks or food, especially when it looks cute, there was this one drinK-- I kind of forgot the name, but it's something like flower tea or something.
So it's in Coffee Talk 2. And the artist of Coffee Talk, which is Dio, he drew it like really, really pretty. He put the petals of the flowers in the side of the cup, and then like put a stirring spoon with a shape of [INAUDIBLE] in there. So I was like, oh, my god, if I can make these drinks. I will keep taking pictures of it and post it on my social media. So yeah, I think that's like my favorite. [LAUGHS]
KELLY: Yeah, anything that is for the content, for the Instagram then.
KELLY: [LAUGHS] It has dual roles, because it's a delicious drink and you get to remember it.
KELLY: Yeah, so within the game, there are fantastical creatures that tell deeply human stories. Without giving away any spoilers, because we want people to go play and experience Coffee Talk 2 for themselves, is there a significance to these stories? What does the team want players to take away from them? What are some of the learnings behind these stories that your team is telling?
SARAH: So basically, I think it's pretty much the same as the first Coffee Talk. So the first Coffee Talk, what we want to deliver to the players is that personal stories. And I remember our late friend Fahmi, who was the writer of the first Coffee Talk, he tried to put stories that he experienced himself, stories from his friends, stories that he like overheard when he worked on the game sitting in a coffee shop. So I think that's what makes Coffee Talk Coffee Talk, because people can relate a lot to the stories because it's just stories that happens like everyday around us.
And what we want to bring in a Coffee Talk 2 is pretty much the same as the first Coffee Talk. But in here, we sort of want to focus more on social media, like connections that we built in the digital world basically through internet. That's why we emphasize on reconnecting with people. So I think that's what the two main characters of the second episode will deliver. So how they-- what is it?
So one character is he was very excited about social media, you know like, I've got to post this. I'm going to post myself like drinking this cute coffee in Coffee Talk, but then the other one was like, oh, no, I don't want to deal with social media. And there's two meet at Coffee Talk and the rest is in the game. So if you're curious about it, be sure to play the game.
KELLY: Yeah, it sounds really interesting. And it is fun to think about some of the things that you overhear in coffee shops, right? It ranges from deep philosophical discussions to what someone did the night before to what books people are reading. So I like that that's kind of mirrored in the game. And a lot can be taken from the different themes.
SARAH: Thank you.
KELLY: I haven't had a chance to dive into Coffee Talk 2, but I'm very excited for it. And I didn't want any spoilers, but very excited to check it out.
SARAH: Well, I hope I didn't spoil anything just now from my answer.
KELLY: No. No, it was a great set-up. I'm even more intrigued, yeah, if possible. So I want to pivot a little bit and talk about the studio and efforts in game development and the projects that Toge is doing to invest in Southeast Asian developers. Can you tell us a little bit about that initiative?
SARAH: OK, so basically, Toge Productions, we've been around for 14 years, I think. So it's been a very long time. And we started off as a web-based game developer. And during that time, we got a lot of funding for our games and also we have a this safety net basically to keep making games and if we fail that, we still have funding to work on more games.
And nowadays, we see that it's hard, especially for the developers in Southeast Asia to get those kind of funding. And because for us, Toge Productions, we have the resources, we have the knowledge to publish our games and bring our games to the world. So what we want to do with this initiative, this Toge Game Fund Initiative is it's a prototype funding and also mentoring.
So I think we emphasize more on the mentoring here, because we see that lots of game developers from Southeast Asia they have potentials to make great games, but they don't know how to sell their games or how to make a game that they [INAUDIBLE] sell in the markets. Because it's different between just making games and making games that you want to sell to people, right?
So that's the goal of Toge Game Fund Initiative. So we want to give mentoring to games developers in Southeast Asia who gets the mentoring and also we give prototype funding, so they can make a demo of their project. And they can use the demo to-- they don't have to pitch the game to Toge Productions. They can even use the demo if they want to pitch to other publishers.
And also, we are actually like-- yeah, basically, we just want to help more developers, because we think that we don't want to grow alone. We want to grow together. So that's how we came up with the initiatives.
KELLY: That's amazing. So how-- if someone wanted to get involved with that or look into being mentored or reach out, what's the best way to do that?
SARAH: Yeah, so if you're a developer from Southeast Asia, you can just go to togeproductions.com/tgfi. You can just submit your pitch there, and then we'll contact you if you're interested in funding and mentoring your project.
KELLY: That's amazing. I feel like on a personal note, there is sometimes the mentality of like, oh, I had to fight for my space in this industry because there's not enough seats at the table for people that look like me or are from where I'm from. And instead of fighting each other for that one seat, I think it's important to fight to make more seats at that table.
SARAH: Yeah, exactly.
KELLY: And so I think that's kind of what you're doing. And I think that's really amazing. So kudos to you and the team for doing that. Yeah.
SARAH: Thank you. [LAUGHS]
KELLY: Yeah, of course. So what is next for the Coffee Talk series? Do you have stories that you still want to tell, expand on, Toge Productions in general, like where do you see yourself and your team going?
SARAH: OK, so maybe for a Coffee Talk, because we just released the sequel-- OK, I'm going to be honest with you, we've even haven't think about like, are we going to do a sequel or not? Just follow us on our social media, and you'll get the updates. But for other stuff that we're working on right now, so here at Toge Productions, we have three different teams.
So one is working on Coffee Talk. One is working on a mecha robot strategy kind of game. It's called Strong Tactics. And the other one is working on a multiplayer co-op game called [INAUDIBLE] Mountain Outbreak. So we have two different games. It's totally different from Coffee Talk. But if you're looking for a fresh game you want to try, so be sure to follow us, Toge Productions. Yeah, that's it. [LAUGHS]
KELLY: You're like that's it. It's just a couple of games, launching a DLC, working on this, yeah, that's all.
KELLY: That's amazing. Yeah, make sure that you give them a follow, so that you can stay up to date on all of that news. And, Sarah, anything else that you want to say or anything that you would like to highlight or talk about before we let you go?
SARAH: Yeah, probably, I just want to, of course, promote Coffee Talk. Basically, like now you can play first Coffee Talk and second Coffee Talk available on Xbox Game Pass. So you can play both of them there. And we recently just released games called A Space for the Unbound. That is also a very good game.
If you love Coffee Talk, you will also love A Space for the Unbound. We just released it like four months ago in January. So, yeah, play Coffee Talk, play A Space for the Unbound, and follow Toge Productions, and, yeah, take care. [LAUGHS]
KELLY: Amazing. Thank you so much for your time today. I know you are a very busy person, but we appreciate having you here and for telling us all about Coffee Talk 2. So yeah, finish the rest of this podcast, and then go play it. Thank you, Sarah.
SARAH: Thank you, Kelly.
LARRY HRYB: The Last Case of Benedict Fox is now available. It's on Xbox Game Pass. Joining us today is Bartek Lesiakowski the creative director for Plot Twist, the company behind The Last Case of Benedict Fox. Thank you very much for joining us.
BARTEK LESIAKOWSKI: [INAUDIBLE]
LARRY HRYB: It's great to see you. Tell us a little bit about The Last Case of Benedict Fox. I mean this has such an amazing art style. We love these types of games. But this one's quite a looker. Tell us a little bit about the game while I show it to some folks.
BARTEK LESIAKOWSKI: Sure, so what you see now is The Last Case of Benedict Fox. It's our take on Metroidvania. It's a game in which you take control of Benedict Fox, a self-proclaimed detective, on his last case. And he has this unique gift because he was connected at birth to a demon companion from another dimension. And he has the special ability of entering human psyche, which obviously, seems very practical when you are a detective.
LARRY HRYB: Now, that's interesting-- kind of an interesting game mechanic you're going to enter into the human psyche, because that could be dangerous. But it's really interesting. It takes place in this limbo and Detective Benedict transports back and forth between the memories of the deceased, which is a really interesting concept. How did you come up with it?
BARTEK LESIAKOWSKI: Well, it was a long evolution, actually. It wasn't a eureka moment. We had this idea for this detective game, but we also wanted to spread wings when it comes to the graphics.
So we were searching for ways to make the whole case be interesting also visually. So we didn't want only to have the house. And we came up with this idea of, well, wouldn't it be cool if we not only like could see the past, but maybe also even venture into human psyche and see how they saw the house, how they memorize some things differently.
LARRY HRYB: Yeah, it's a very sophisticated mechanic. Now, you won the Gamescom 2022 award last year at Gamescom in Germany for the most-wanted Microsoft Xbox Game. What was it like knowing that the game was highly anticipated by players worldwide? And how did Plot Twist, your company, build a global fan base for the game?
BARTEK LESIAKOWSKI: So it was a huge surprise for us back then. It is still right now. Because we were completely unknown before. If we were-- when we showed up and showed the game, then a few months later, we showed the table demo on the Gamescom floor, and it took us by surprise how many people actually were intrigued by the idea so. Suddenly, the pressure grew, and now here we are.
LARRY HRYB: Plot Twist, your company, specializes in the Metroidvania genre. Can you tell us-- for those folks that aren't really familiar with the Metroidvania genre, can you tell us a little bit about the genre and what's unique for Benedict Fox and what you guys do to put your spin on it?
BARTEK LESIAKOWSKI: Sure, so usually Metroidvanias start as a linear games and through the course of the game, player finds, discovers, or gains new abilities that helps him explore more and find new places, new clues, and so on. And what we've done is we've mixed it with kind of a adventure game or a detective game where some of the Metroidvania locks and keys are actually puzzles.
LARRY HRYB: Yeah, I mean that's what's really, really cool about this. We can see maybe some of the puzzles there right there. It's really, really fun to play. This has a very-- some folks looked at it and said it's kind of Tim Burton-esque.
It's dark. It's got it's got interesting art style. It's deco. It's from the '20s. As the creative director at Plot Twist, what's your favorite element of this game and why?
BARTEK LESIAKOWSKI: So one of the things that we apply to the art style, but also to the different areas of the game was that we wanted to have as much contrasts as we could. Because where is some kind of contrast or tension, we believe there is something interesting. So we wanted to have this beautiful Burton-esque art style, but combined with a darker green story. And the same goes with the gameplay, which is sometimes very dynamic and combat-centric, but sometimes you talk with NPCs, you gather clues, you follow the trail, and so on. So as much contrast as we could we have put into the game.
LARRY HRYB: And I can't show too much of the gameplay, because I don't want to have any spoilers. I want people to kind of go on the journey themselves. But Detective Benedict is joined by a demonic companion in the game. What was the thought process behind developing the duo?
BARTEK LESIAKOWSKI: So actually, it was the similar formula. We knew that Benedict had to be a smart but-- smart and sharp, but also very reserved character. And if we wanted to give the game a little bit of more edge maybe, we had to introduce another character that we wanted to constantly talk with Benedict. So the initial idea of having a demon in his head grew, so they could constantly talk, and bicker, and figure things out together.
LARRY HRYB: What do you want players to take away from this gaming experience?
BARTEK LESIAKOWSKI: Oh, boy, that's a tough one.
It's OK. We really tried to show a passion for our game. And we think that there are some pretty emotional moments. And if they will stick with the players, we will find the game successful.
LARRY HRYB: Enough said. Now, is this really, really the last case for Benedict Fox or do you have anything else in store?
BARTEK LESIAKOWSKI: Well, if someone already finished the game and saw the post-credits scene, then they know.
LARRY HRYB: All right, there's the teaser. Now again, this is available on Xbox Game Pass. That has been great for you as developers, hasn't it, to be able to just not worry about that component and just focus on creating a great game, right?
BARTEK LESIAKOWSKI: Oh, yeah, it's huge for us. So we knew that we wanted to create a Metroidvania, but we also had some unusual ideas. And if not Game Pass, we maybe would go with a much safer route. But we are a creative bunch and we wanted to express those new ideas. So it was a really cool avenue to do that.
LARRY HRYB: And this is exactly what Game Pass should do, which is allow you as developers to open up and unlock your creativity, and as gamers, allow us to go investigate and experience new things just like The Last Case of Benedict Fox-- now available on Game Pass. Listen, it's been an absolute pleasure. Bartek Lesiakowski, Creative Director of Plot Twist, appreciate your time today. Congratulations on the game.
BARTEK LESIAKOWSKI: Thank you very much.
LARRY HRYB: All right, a bunch of interviews there. That was a lot of interviews. But anyway, Rebecca and Jeff actually had to bounce. They had meetings to go to, because they're starting to plan for our big event coming up in June.
And as you heard in the FanFest segment, I will be in Mexico City, so please go sign up now. Check that out. I know we're going to have our team over in Warsaw, our team down in Melbourne, of course, the team over there in LA, and also down there in Brazil. So we've got a lot going on for FanFest. We'll be talking a little bit more about that in the coming weeks. So go ahead and check that out.
So on behalf of Jeff and Rebecca, like I say who had to drop out because they had some other meetings to go to, thank you for listening this week. Drop a comment down there in YouTube if you have a moment, and then also check us out on Spotify or wherever finer podcasts are watched and/or listen to. We'll see you next week. Thanks, everybody.