Paper Trail To Receive Release Date Announcement “Very Soon”

Although the studio has found its niche, the Co-Founder believes it "doesn’t necessarily have to be tied to just puzzling."

Story Highlights

  • Paper Trail — Newfangled Games’ debut title — is scheduled to be released in Q1 of 2024.
  • This top-down puzzle game offers unique folding mechanics driven by a strong narrative.
  • We interviewed Paper Trail’s Art Director and received invaluable insight into the game’s development.

Newfangled Games, Hoffman Brothers’ relatively new studio, has been working on its upcoming title, Paper Trail, over the past few months. With Henry Hoffman’s over a decade of experience in video game development, the studio is on the cusp of launching its debut project. The team has managed to create a spectacular title with mechanics that allow you to bend the world as if it were paper.

After years of creating one-time teams for various projects, Henry Hoffman decided to create Newfangled Games with his brother Frederick Hoffman, an award-winning artist responsible for Paper Trail’s unique art style. Taking the opportunity, eXputer sat down with the Co-Founder and Art Director, Frederick Hoffman, in recent times for an email interview to discuss their upcoming top-down puzzle adventure. 

Read ahead for the full interview and Frederick’s invaluable insights into Paper Trail. 

Hoffman Brothers (Left = Henry) (Right = Frederick)
Hoffman Brothers (Left = Henry) (Right = Frederick).

At first, Paper Trail was supposed to be a side-scrolling Metroidvania, but the idea was scrapped, and players can now fold levels rather than the map itself. Was there anything else that wasn't integrated for some reason?

Frederick: Haha, yes, that’s right! The game went through many early iterations; originally, we were looking at having a map that you could fold and flip – and any alterations made to the map would affect the actual world around you. We were drawing ideas of what that would look like on paper when we realized it’d be more interesting if the world *was* the map instead.

Early on in development, we outlined a bunch of mechanics that could interact with the folding paper. A lot of them made it into the final game, but a few ended up on the cutting room floor. One of my favorite (and least viable) mechanics I came up with was to have these big frogs that you could tap to make them stick their tongues out. If you lined up a bug in front of a frog and tapped it, he’d stick his tongue and swallow the bug; as he eats the bug, he swells up and becomes pushable like a boulder.

Sadly, that didn’t make it into the final game, perhaps for DLC, though who knows!

Henry once mentioned that some levels have a far too easy solution, like the level where you simply fold the paper top-down and walk across, which went unnoticed for a while. Has the team worked on adjusting those, or can we expect some of these in the final version?

Frederick: Yes, we’ve been doing very thorough playtesting – both internally and externally to try and eradicate any cheeky cheats that may have snuck past the design process. There are hundreds of potential folds for any one level, so it’s tricky to design a puzzle in a way where it only has a single solution – but we’ve managed to as far as we can tell!

Playtesting has been incredibly important, not just for finding skips and cheats – but, most importantly, for ironing out the difficulty curve and refining our tutorials. It’s really hard to get a grasp on how hard your puzzles are when you already know the solution. Happily, the difficulty is more forgiving than our earliest demo, where the final level took our poor sister four hours to complete! (sorry Jemima!)

I’ve learned that it’s wise to never underestimate a speedrunner’s ability to break or cheese the game, though, so I’m sure we’ll see soon after release.

Did the team take inspiration from any other game or piece of media?

Frederick: Oh yeah, of course, lots and lots of different inspirations. I know Henry takes a lot of inspiration from games like Braid and Gorogoa: puzzling, mechanically unique gameplay with a strong sense of narrative.

For me, I drew more on animation and illustration as some of the main influences. Films like ‘The Secret of Kells’ and ‘Fantastic Mr Fox’ for their art direction, and a very specific scene in ‘Tekkonkinkreet’ that is hand-animated in pencil crayons was a big inspiration for how we treat motion and animation in the game.

There are some unexpected influences, too; Henry and I both grew up on the early internet – watching cartoons on Newgrounds like ‘Salad Fingers’ and ‘Spoilsbury Toast Slave.’ That kind of weird British dialogue and rough-hand animation has wormed its way into our subconscious and occasionally pops up in character dialog or art choices.

Will Paper Trail focus more on the puzzle side, or can we expect the unfolding of a strong story as well?

Frederick: You can expect a fully interactive story! Paige’s journey, her memories, the people she meets along the way, and her victories are all divulged through interactive cutscenes!

I’m really happy with how the cutscenes came together. We’re working with a great illustrator called Moy Lee – who took all of my rough sketches and turned them into beautiful storybook illustrations. Then, to be able to take the folding tech we developed for the rest of the game and use it here as a narrative device is very satisfying.

I can’t say too much here about the full story, but I can safely say there’s a lot more than just puzzles. If puzzles are all you want, however, there is a ‘skip cutscene’ button.

Paper Trail - via Frederick Hoffman
Paper Trail – via Frederick Hoffman.

We don't often see two brothers being the decision-makers on a video game, which makes me wonder what it has been like working alongside Henry on a very passionate project.

Frederick: Ah, the joys of the family business! It’s actually been great; we’re very aligned on our vision for the studio and share a similar standard for quality. We’re able to hold each other accountable, with full radical candor, safe in the knowledge we won’t take it personally. If he does ever overstep the line, I can always get our mum to settle any disputes.

We worked together on his previous game – Hue, back when I was still a student. Years later, I was applying for a position at a studio in Sweden and sent Henry my CV to look over. I can’t remember his exact words, but it was something like, ‘screw that, let’s start a studio together instead.’ Four or so years, multiple rounds of funding, and many late nights later – here we are!

Throughout development, have there been times when some content or idea was put aside for something in the future? If so, can we get some tease on that?

Frederick: I can’t say much! There are some mechanics that were too large in scope for this round of development but that we’d love to have a crack at if we ever do DLC! I wish I could say more, but if you follow our social media, you’ll see any announcements.

Will Newfangled Games continue with similar puzzle games, or is there a recent interest in other genres you wish to explore?

Frederick: I think we’ve found our niche with unique mechanically driven games, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be tied to just puzzling. Something I’m interested in exploring in future titles is building out a novel mechanic that can be used in a context broader than only solving puzzles. We have a little taste of that in our cutscenes in Paper Trail, where we use the core mechanic as a narrative device.

Taking folding paper as an example, it’d be interesting to see how it could be applied to stealth or combat or as a method of open-world exploration.

Puzzles will always be a central part of our design philosophy, but by exploring other areas and broadening our appeal – hopefully, we can trick more people into falling in love with puzzles!

Henry mentioned before that you two don't exactly play the kind of games that you develop. So, which games would you say are your top picks? And if you can speak for your brother, we would love to know that as well.

Frederick: Oof, I’m terrible at the moment. There’s a bit of a saying that when you make games, you stop playing them, and that’s been very true for me. When I get a spare moment, I like to frustrate myself by playing Smash Ultimate before getting angry and telling myself to never play again. Rinse and Repeat.

In terms of top picks, though, there were some really influential games that I played when I was younger that still hold up to this day. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker was probably the biggest one; I was completely in awe of it from start to finish. The art direction, the music, the boss fights, the puzzles, everything – perfect game! I’ll reel off a list here, but there are too many to narrow it down much, haha: Limbo, Inside, Simpsons Hit & Run, Worms Armageddon, Gorogoa, Jazz Jackrabbit, Borderlands, Metroid Prime, Bucky o’ Hare, Super Mario Sunshine. The list goes on!

For Henry he was obsessed with a niche French game called Little Big Adventure when he was little – and it was that which first got him into 3d modeling and game design. Shout out to any Twinsen fans out there!

Initially, it was just you and your brother, but more people have joined the studio over time. I'm curious to know how many developers worked on Paper Trail.

Frederick: That’s right; although it was just me and Henry when we first started – the team has been growing year on year since then. The first person we hired was our lead developer to help build the tech needed for folding mechanics and pathfinding. This sort of setup had never been done before, and we were in over our heads; Gonzalo stepped in and saved the day and has been a core member of the team ever since.

Following that, we went looking for a composer and found the marvelous Claudie Mackula, who wrote and recorded the whole soundtrack for the game. Then we bought on Robert Maloney to aid with production and publishing efforts, to organize our messes essentially. Moy came on to help with illustrating the cutscenes and key art.

Finally, we took on an intern, Kyle Newman, from the local University, who quickly became an indispensable junior developer who we wouldn’t have been able to finish the game without!

On top of that, we’ve had a bunch of external people help us with QA, translation, playtesting, porting, and legal advice. So a full team of just five, but a lot more than that without whom we couldn’t exist!

Paper Trail - via Frederick Hoffman
Paper Trail (Left = Before Eating the Bug) (Right = After Eating the Bug) – via Frederick Hoffman.

How did you and Henry feel after the deal with Netflix to bring Paper Trail on mobile? I understand it must have been big, considering how you two want to go above and beyond with Newfangled Games.

Frederick: That was a surreal moment! We’d been having conversations with them for a while; a friend of mine had worked on another game they signed (Before Your Eyes) – and that really sparked our curiosity. Those talks weren’t really going anywhere until we were nominated for some awards at Gamescom, where we were showcasing. A punter who was playing the demo loudly said, ‘This would be great on mobile’ within earshot of a Netflix rep, and then the next day, we won ‘Best Family Game’ there. That really accelerated things, and soon after, we were able to reach an agreement!

From now on, I’ll be sending stooges to all events to announce that the game would be great on -insert target platform- to help secure deals!

I think my favorite thing about the Netflix deal, though, is that we’ll be able to get the game in front of so many eyeballs! All those rocks and trees I spent hours and hours drawing will be able to be seen by so many people; very surreal, a little terrifying, and very gratifying!

Speaking of, even before the deal with Netflix, did the team want to bring Paper Trail to mobile? What other efforts were made to make that possible?

Frederick: That was always something we had in mind for the project; touch control works fantastically for folding paper – it just makes sense. From the beginning, our earliest pitch decks were targeting Apple Arcade as the premium games subscription service of choice. A lot of the games they were featuring at the time were really aligned with the sorts of games that we wanted to make ourselves. That shifted towards a retention focus, and Netflix became much more suited to our ideas instead.

Mobile exclusive wasn’t ever the plan, though. We wanted a great mobile port that had parity with our console and PC release.

Even though it is a passion project, were there times when you got tired of using the same art style? Is there another art style that you would love to try out for a different project? And if you have already made some, would it be possible for us to see some of it (we will add it to the article)?

Frederick: It feels like it’s been so long drawing and designing in this style – I’ll need a little time to relearn how to draw differently again! I’m very ready to jump back into the really exciting early stages of prototyping again; it’s probably my favorite part of the process. I’ve got loads of ideas I want to try, perhaps something a little more serious and less whimsical. Most likely, our next game will be making the jump from 2D to either 2.5 or 3D, which really opens up the potential art directions.

It’s impossible to know what that will look like yet; you just have to trust the process and lean into the experimentation! The early drawings for Paper Trail look nothing like how it looks now. First, we’ll work out the mechanics and gameplay – then we’ll work out how to design an aesthetic that best compliments it! Form follows function and all that.

Have you ever thought of what your first AAA game would be like? We would love to hear your thoughts.

Frederick: I hope it won’t look like any other AAA game! That’s not to say I don’t love lots of AAA games, I just think it’d be really exciting to take that kind of budget and try to do something really leftfield with it.

Before we settled on Paper Trail, we discussed all sorts of different projects of different scales. Something I’ve wanted to work on is a game that begins very realistically and very grounded – but, over time, starts to devolve into magical realism and becomes increasingly dreamlike. We had a few ideas that followed that trajectory, with twists and turns in the story and mechanics. Unfortunately, I can’t say much more than that, just in case somebody decides to give us a hundred million pounds to make it!

Is there anything else you wish to share with the audience? Something we haven’t touched upon yet.

Frederick: Just to say that we’ll be launching in Q1 of next year, and to keep an eye out for a solid date announcement that ought to be coming very soon! Paper Trail will be available on Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox and PC!

YouTube video

Talking with Frederick made it clear that Paper Trail was much different in its initial stages, and those changes may have just turned out best for the game as it has become an indie title with over 25 awards before its release. Not only that, but the game had its potential recognized by Netflix, resulting in a remarkable deal that will eventually bring Paper Trail to mobile devices.

Although it is the studio’s debut title, both co-founders carry significant experience in video game development and are here to turn Newfangled Games into one of the big developers. But before we look that far ahead into the future, we must see how Paper Trail performs and which direction the studio takes next. As Frederick mentioned, the studio has found its niche with unique mechanically driven games, and I am excited to see how that plays into the future.

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Mudassir is a seasoned journalist with a passion for uncovering the stories behind our favorite virtual worlds. Armed with a trusty notepad and a keen curiosity, he dives headfirst into the gaming industry's most exciting personalities. His knack for insightful questions and his ability to connect with developers and gamers alike makes his interviews a must-read. While on the lookout for the next person to interview, Mudassir keeps himself busy by writing news surrounding the gaming universe. Experience: 4+ Years || Senior Journalist

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