Ari Carrillo, who works as “President of Visuals and Playtime” as one-half of DevNAri, describes the developer duo’s game Newt One as a 3D musical platformer, but that’s just the elevator pitch. What the Minnesota developers are working to prove in their first title goes beyond this formula—the real goal is to make you, the player, just a little bit happier from playing. “The thing that we’re trying to do with it is elicit the emotion of happiness,” said Dev Jana, the other half of DevNAri and the “President of Code and Noises.” (As you might have noticed, the team’s name comes from the first names of its members.)
Newt One has a relatively simple premise: you, as Newt, the protagonist, have the task of awakening the world. Each level starts out in grayscale and with atonal music accompanying it. As the player moves through, they’ll notice that the world responds to their touch.
Each level is designed to be gradually revealed. Blocks light up and beam out notes as you progress with the music responding—“to give you a sense of progression through sound,” as Jana put it. In the process of bringing life back to the world, the player will subtly pick up on this feeling of momentum and a sense of joy and peace. In total there are 25 levels, with the last being a bonus level that needs to be unlocked. There are four different realms to explore, including zones emulating forests, clouds, islands, and glaciers. Each realm has its own color scheme and musical vibe.
“I think the story moves the characters forward,” said Carillo, who found inspiration for the plot of the game in master storyteller Hayao Miyazaki. In some of Miyazaki’s films, Carillo noticed that a quintessential bad guy wasn’t needed for the characters to grow and develop. He set out to do something similar in the world DevNAri created. This is another subtle building block of Newt One that contributes to its tranquil nature: there are no enemies to kill, there is no all-powerful boss to defeat, and there is no destruction of the adorable world you inhabit.
“It’s a more challenging way to design a game and create a level when there are no weapons and no bad guys,” said Jana. “That became a part of what we do and what we wanted to mechanics of game.” The nonviolence mechanic is one that isn’t seen in most games; the majority of titles rely on some sort of violence. Carillo brought up that even a game like Mario Brothers will have you kill and destroy inhabitants in the world. The absence of this in DevNAri’s own game doesn’t mean that either developer is totally against forms of violence in games, however. Both cited being fans of AAA franchises that prominently use violence. Jana and Carillo just had their goal of making players happy in mind, and nonviolence was a direct way to make that possible.
“We reward players for bringing life into the world,” said Carillo, speaking to the game’s design. Its nonviolent nature is something that the developers don’t necessarily need you to pick up on, though—they want players to just have fun with the game, and if their spirits are uplifted in the process, that’s a win for them.
Newt One is the recipient of many awards, including Game of the Show at 2D Con 2017, Player’s Choice at Minnecade 2017, and an official selection of the TEDx Minneapolis Innovation Lab in 2016. The game officially released on February 14, 2018, for PC and Mac on itch.io and Utomik. A release on Xbox One is in the works, and other platforms are a possibility. A free five-level demo is available on itch.io.